Passover matzo, part II

Dear Rabbi Fried,

You mentioned in a previous column that the chametz/leavened bread represents haughtiness and inflated ego, so we get it out of our houses and burn it. Once we did that already the day before Pesach, and “got rid of the haughtiness,” and ate matzo at the Seder, why is it necessary to continue eating only matzo all the days of Pesach? What do we accomplish by this?

Joseph R.

Dear Joseph,

The Kabbalists teach us that the chametz, or leavened products, does indeed symbolize a person’s impulse to listen to their ego, even when it runs contrary to the will of G-d. 

The Sages say that the Jews proclaim to G-d, “We truly desire, deep down, to perform Your will; it is only the ‘yeast in the dough’ which prevents us” (Talmud, Berachos 17a). This “yeast in the dough” is the inclination toward what the body desires, often masking the desires of the soul. The inflated ego is the root of most of the evil in the world, whether it involves individuals or nations.

Traditionally, Jews have always worked quite hard to remove all chametz from their homes before Pesach, often commencing this task weeks before the holiday to ensure not even the tiniest speck remains. 

The story is told of a great Chassidic master who, during Pesach, asked a group of his devoted followers to check the Jewish homes of their shtetl to see if anyone had any foreign silk — forbidden by the czar for Jews to own. They came back with an entire storehouse of silk, despite the severe decree against Jews owning that silk. He then asked them to return all the silk and see if they could find any crumbs of bread, any chametz, in the very same homes. They returned, reporting that they could find nothing. The rabbi then raised his hands heavenward and proclaimed, “Master of the universe, look how dedicated and wonderful Your people are! They’re not afraid of a wicked decree against them by a flesh-and-blood king threatening severe penalties. But Your decree — which was delivered thousands of years ago with no visible power to oversee it — they observe so scrupulously out of love for You!”

Eating the matzo all seven days, while refraining from the consumption of chametz during the same seven days, reinforces this message. 

Seven is the number which symbolizes the physical world, as there are seven days of the week, seven tones in the musical scale and seven basic colors. To fulfill this mitzvah all seven days (eight in the Diaspora for other reasons), one elevates their physicality to new levels and imbues their soul with the strength and fortitude to remain above their egotistical inclinations throughout the year. 

This is why we recite a prayer upon completion of the checking the home for chametz: “…and just as we rid our houses of all chametz, so too may we merit that all our days we succeed in ridding our hearts of the yetzer hara (inclination toward evil).”

With each bite of matzo, try to focus on this message and you’ll certainly be filled with joy over this great opportunity to be elevated to new levels!

Wishes for a joyous and meaningful Pesach to you and all the readers!

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